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RELS330 Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World

An introduction to Judaism in the modern world, with emphasis on contemporary issues and debates.

Although there are only 14 million Jews worldwide, Judaism is the precursor of both Christianity and Islam and has played a significant role in the cultures of Europe, the Middle East and the US. This paper focuses on modern Judaism, as it developed over the last two centuries, so as to understand the beliefs and practices of contemporary Jews.

We will consider questions such as: why are there disagreements between different Jewish sects or movements, including Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaisms? What is the Ultra-Orthodox movement, and are they 'fundamentalists'? What do Jews mean when they claim to be the Chosen People? What are Jewish beliefs about a coming Messiah in the end times? How does Judaism treat women? What is Jewish mysticism - Hasidism and Kabbalah? Why has antisemitism arisen in Europe and in Christianity, and how did it result in persecutions and the Holocaust? How did Zionism - the movement to establish a modern state of Israel - arise, and what are the religious dimensions of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine? Can we say that Israel is a secular state, as it sometimes claims? This paper provides an introduction to the academic study of a social group that challenges the boundaries of religion, politics and culture. No background in religion is required.

Paper title Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World
Paper code RELS330
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level RELS or RELX points
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
May not be credited together with RELS230 when taken with the same content.

Dr Deane Galbraith

Teaching staff

Course co-ordinator: Professor Will Sweetman
Lecturer: Dr Deane Galbraith

Teaching Arrangements

10%-Online short-answer tests (2 x 5%)
15%-Critical response to news article
50%-Final examination


Textbooks are not required for this paper.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete the paper will be able to:

  • describe and distinguish various modern forms of Judaism, their origins, practices, beliefs, and constructions of identity (scholarship, global perspective, interdisciplinary perspective)
  • understand various critical methods as applied to Judaic studies, their applicability to its subfields and their relative strengths and weaknesses (interdisciplinary perspective, critical thinking)
  • understand and evaluate opposing viewpoints on select issues and debates within modern Judaism (scholarship, critical thinking, ethics)
  • write clear, persuasive, critical and knowledgeable essays on contemporary topics and debates within Judaic studies (communication)
  • articulate the strengths and weaknesses of positions within Judaic studies (interdisciplinary perspective, critical thinking)
  • relate developments in various contemporary forms of Judaism to the demands and challenges of modernity (scholarship, critical thinking, ethics)
  • assess the limitations and contingencies of the category of religion as it is employed within Judaic studies (scholarship, critical thinking)

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system